On March 16th, five Hershey Montessori School Alumni shared insights into our lives after Hershey Montessori School. Each of us are in different places in our lives and careers so it was interesting to see how we each have ways in common that our time at Hershey Montessori School impacts us in our lives, school, and careers today. Katie Vadakin and I participated remotely and Andrew Yarger, Connor DeWalt, and Leigh Emelko participated in person at the Concord Campus.
In honor of Montessori Education Week, honoring the sense of community that was fostered in us as Montessori students is important.
Many people go about their lives looking inward, asking questions like ‘How can I help me?’ ‘Is this going to benefit me?’ ‘What can I get out of doing this?’ ‘How can that person help me get ahead?’ While Montessori promotes independence, decision making, and helping the child to think for themselves, there is also an external focus to the work done, the lessons taught, and community that is fostered. In many, if not all, of the lessons that we learned as students, there was a thread that runs through them which is the betterment of the world and mankind – sometimes through the connection with nature and other living things, sometimes through projects that help the community run smoothly, sometimes through knowledge about historical issues and issues facing society today, sometimes it’s through the Practical Life work. Almost every lesson we were taught had a connection to the greater world – what we learned was to either directly better the world and those around us, or to equip and inspire us to make the world around us better.
(All photos are of Hershey Montessori School students or former students)
Dr. Montessori called children ‘a hope and a promise for mankind…’, said that “An education capable of saving humanity is no small undertaking; it involves the spiritual development of man, the enhancement of his value as an individual, and the preparation of young people to understand the times in which they live…” and that, “The child is capable of developing and giving us tangible proof of the possibility of a better humanity.”
Dr. Montessori said these things because she believed that her curriculum and the way that she designed an educational system are meant to educate children as a whole, not just academically. By educating the whole child and interweaving peace and community throughout the pedagogy, these statements she made are attainable because the alumni and former students will be living out the principals of peace and community knowingly and unknowingly.
Looking at the basic needs of an individual, the desire for community (and thus peace within that community) is one of the essentials. According to Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs,’ once the basics are met (food, clothing, shelter, safety), the next level of need is belonging, followed by esteem, self-actualization, and self-transcendence, which is helping others. Dr. Montessori designed a curriculum and a system that educates, develops, and encourages these innate needs which is a big reason why it works. She knew what mankind needed – belongingness, esteem, self-actualization, and self-transcendence – and developed an environment where those needs are met, fostered, cared for, and grown. The environment that Dr. Montessori envisioned was created by Hershey Montessori School 39 years ago with over 1,000 students having had the chance to experience it. In honor of Montessori Education Week, that is worth celebrating!
As students, we were taught that we have something to contribute, that we were capable of much, and that we could make a difference. We were recognized as unique individuals and given freedom within limits to foster our individuality within the greater community. Being encouraged in this way inspires us to better the world around us and to contribute.
Katie Vadakin, a Hershey Montessori School Alumni Ambassador who attended Hershey from 1998 to 2010 said, “…it has become extremely clear to me all that Montessori has provided me with. From people skills, to academics, to leadership abilities, Hershey has given me a perfect base for success.”
To sum it up, promoting community and peace alongside providing an education for the whole child results in students being prepared to make an impact.
Makella Webster, Hershey Montessori School Alumni Coordinator
This week, (February 26 through March 3), is Montessori Education Week – celebrating the 110-year anniversary of Montessori Education!
Hershey Montessori School started almost forty years ago, in 1978 as a rental space with eight students. Today, there are 271 students and over 1,000 alumni who are living and working all over the world. (You can take a look at the history of Hershey Montessori School here).
Two of the greatest gifts that the alumni have been given are both the community of Hershey Montessori School, and the importance of community that was fostered in us at an early age.
The “Community Song” was sung at the annual Thanksgiving Feasts along with the entire school, allowing us as students to feel as though we were a part of something bigger than ourselves. “Look around and you will see community, a family… we are brothers, we are one.” We would work together on projects that benefited the community like preparing meals, taking care of the animals in the classrooms, and helping each other when needed. There was a post on the alumni Facebook group about the log cabin at Huntsburg Campus that was built by staff and students. It was wonderful to see comments from alumni who have fond memories of accomplishing that together. We were taught formal conflict resolution in elementary with elements of it at earlier ages to help foster peace and the ability to work well with each other.
(Photo: Hershey Montessori students circa 1992)
Matt Bernardina who attended Hershey from 1991 to 1994 said, “The Montessori system, as well as my teachers and fellow classmates, helped me grow into who I am today…” He mentions the community around him being impactful on his education and growth. Dr. Montessori recognized the proverb “It takes a village to raise a child,” as a truth that she implemented into the educational system she developed.
(Photo: Hershey Montessori adolescent students circa 2002)
It’s a priority for Montessori schools to promote peace in the classroom: establishing and encouraging community is a big part of that. Respecting each other’s differences, recognizing kinship with those around us, and working on projects together were all ways Hershey Montessori School instilled peace throughout our time there. This is something that we carry with us in all future communities we join. Dr. Montessori said, “Establishing peace is the work of education.”
“We shall walk together on this path of life, for all things are part of the universe and are connected with each other to form one whole unity.” – Dr. Montessori
Makella Webster, Hershey Montessori School Alumni Coordinator
Since attending Hershey Montessori School I have reminisced many times about all the incredible experiences I had there. Even now, as I sit hundreds of miles away surrounded by the warmth of a Florida winter, I can remember in the most vivid detail the lessons and memories I created at Hershey. From the fresh winter cold that was only alleviated by the warmth of the steam evaporating off maple sap in the sugaring shack, to the nervous jitters I had acting in my first production in elementary, to the joy I experienced crossing the bridge from one plane of my Children’s House education on to the next. So much of who I am and what I have learned is entwined with the people and place that makes Hershey Montessori School so special to me.
Despite the many vivid memories, until recently I have not been able to encapsulate my experience into a singular cohesive piece. In all truth, I doubt I’ll ever be able to perfectly capture how Heresy has affected me and how meaningfully and deeply the person I am in my adult life was altered and crafted by my education at Hershey. Yet, with writing this, I will make an attempt at putting into words all that, until now, has eluded me about my experience.
Having spent the majority of my formative years learning and developing at Hersey Montessori School, I learned to take ahold of my own life and education. I learned at a young age to invest in myself and to be inquisitive of the world around me. I developed in a nurturing environment that encouraged and promoted initiative and self-discovery; learning from my peers, mentors, and experiences. Hershey gave me the tools, time, and encouragement to not only learn, but to also lead in areas that sparked my interest.
In a time when seemingly daily more schools are making the decision to cut art programs and focus their resources solely on STEM related courses, Hersey is the outlier. A Montessori education, and specifically a Hersey education is an education that values holistic and interconnected learning within a community. The education I began at Hershey taught me the value in both a conventional schooling in the sciences, math, english, and history; as well as the value of an education in music, arts, foreign language, environment, humanities, and occupations. I could continue to endlessly detail every intricacy of my education at Hershey; however, I believe it is much easier for me to simply say that my time at Hershey taught me to understand that the world truly is my classroom.
After my graduation from Hershey Montessori School, I continued to see the value in learning in an environment that focused on the arts as a pillar of a well-rounded education. I pursued my interest in performance art and specifically theatrical design that I found and that was nurtured during my time at Hershey. Now as an Entertainment Technician at Walt Disney World, and quite a few years after my time at Hershey, I still hold the lessons I learned there dear. I remember the lessons learned on cold winter mornings when the animals at the Huntsburg campus needed fed and the fire in the bioshelter needed fuel. Surely my fellow alumni understand the value of hard work, determination, and selflessness that came from those frigid mornings.
From all I learned at Hershey though, I would have to say that no lesson was as valuable and impactful than the one that almost goes unnoticed but is experienced in every little moment. It is a lesson I learned with every obstacle I overcame, all the quiet morning spent listening to my friends play guitars, each thanksgiving meal, every time I struggled to craft a written work, and even every time I mucked the stalls. I learned to make the most of everything I experienced – to treat every moment as more than just an opportunity to learn and grow, but also as a chance to live with intention and joy surrounded by my classmates and friends. That is a lesson that can’t be taught, it can only be experienced in a nurturing and thought-out environment focused on both individual and communal growth. Now, more than ever it seems, this is a lesson that needs to be shared and experienced. As education becomes an institution it replaces excitement with rigidity, taking what I see as the joy out of learning. Hershey is the complete antithesis of that, making learning a communal activity, having taught me more than simply names and dates, but teaching me that learning and growing truly is a delight.
Jake Hines, Hershey Montessori School Alumni Ambassador
When we were students at Hershey Montessori School, we had the opportunity to learn and work in classrooms that did not have stationary desks. We could sit at tables with friends, we could sit on the floor to work (some lessons required it!), and if we had a lesson that needed it, we could work outside!
Many people who visit Montessori classrooms are curious as to why they don’t see any desks. There are many reasons. One article I read talks about how in Montessori, there is no “full frontal teaching.” The article describes “full frontal teaching” as a teaching method where the teacher is the focus, they do the most talking, and everything the students do is “funneled” through the teacher. In a “full frontal teaching” classroom, all of the children do the same thing at the same time. Therefore, desks are not used.
That article points out that Dr. Montessori called teachers ‘guides’ and ‘directors.’ At Hershey Montessori School, once we learned a lesson, usually in a small group or individually with the guide, we were able to choose which work we did, the length of time we worked on it, and where we did this work. This method brilliantly allowed us the ability to spend more time on a material to understand it and the freedom to do it without feeling the pressure of keeping up with those around us. It also allowed us to move quickly through a lesson if we grasped it. We could chose to learn and explore more about a subject that interested us, which is another benefit of the independence we were granted as students. In “full frontal teaching” classrooms, the environment, pressures, attitudes towards work, and relationships with the teacher and other students are completely different.
In another article here, a man describes his first experience in observing a primary classroom.
“The comings and goings of the children were remarkable. They seemed so assured and confident and decisive. No one was telling them where to go or what to do. It was hard to believe that I was observing a room of children ages three through six.”
“We had each just experienced a classroom dynamic designed a hundred years ago. This model has been repeated all over the world to great effect in decade after decade, in various cultures, religions, economic systems, and political systems. It is successful with children who are wealthy or poor, energetic or lethargic, of high intelligence or of low intelligence, extroverted or introverted. It is a class, a community of children, designed by Dr. Maria Montessori.”
The classroom he describes sounds exactly like the classrooms at Hershey Montessori School! It’s wonderful, as alumni, to have experienced a model of education that has been practiced successfully all over the world for a century.
Alumni, are there areas in your life today that you see have benefitted from this classroom model you experienced at Hershey Montessori School? Please comment below! You can read about more of the Montessori method on our website.
Congratulations! You have the opportunity to make a decision that will impact the rest of your child’s life for the better. Your child will learn and grow in a beautiful prepared environment perfectly suited to his or her age and learning speed. If they attend Hershey Montessori School, your child will learn math, science, art, history, humanities, and language by researching in depth, working in groups with other students, going outside and working with the land to see the practical applications of what they’re learning, creating art from a specific time period using authentic materials, writing and performing a Dramatis Personae of a historical individual from that person’s perspective, and many more ways that foster creativity, understanding, and curiosity about the world around them.
They will develop an appreciation for the earth and awareness of where their food comes from through making meals for the community using produce from the garden and meat from the animals they help raise. They will learn about other cultures and alongside students from around the world, which stimulates an understanding of the world outside of their experiences, thus promoting peace. They will be encouraged to follow their specific interests and to get their hands dirty sometimes. They will be inspired to have quiet time, time to create, time to sing, time to plant, time to read, time to run, time to build, time to ask questions…
They will be well prepared for life after Hershey Montessori School both academically and emotionally. Nikhil, an alumnus says, “…my Montessori education sets me apart from other applicants to college and while seeking employment.” Another alumna, Gaelle, says, “Learning hands-on helps me visualize better during my thought process. [I] can think more abstractly. [Hershey Montessori School’s] education placed me directly into honors classes for high school.”
They will be joining a community that truly cares about children because Dr. Maria Montessori believed that, “The child is capable of developing and giving us tangible proof of the possibility of a better humanity. The child is both a hope and a promise for mankind.”
They will be attending a school that is on the cutting edge of Montessori education with the development of the Upper School, and once the new building is finished, your child will be able to learn at Hershey Montessori School starting at birth through age 18.
If you decide that Hershey Montessori School is the place for your child, their life will be impacted, and so will lives around them.
“Although there are many ways, without a doubt the strongest way in which Montessori has helped me was by building a constant desire to learn, and to show me the many ways in which I could learn. I have taken that with me everywhere I’ve been.” – Benjamin Weinberg, Hershey Montessori School Alumnus
The Hershey Montessori Alumni Community
Alumni, what insight would you share with someone considering Hershey Montessori School for their child? Please comment on this post or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Imagine a beautiful place filled with activities that are designed around your needs, calling to your curiosity and imagination. Picture a community where children are surrounded by people who understand, encourage and challenge their strengths. Envision a child learning each day, immersed in a culture of respect and a course of study based upon personal interest and engagement.
Serving children from birth through age 18, Hershey offers challenging, highly individualized programs that focus on the uniqueness of each child.
Hershey offers an exceptional experience on two campuses, including the truly unique, world class farm school.